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Author: ‘Mormons are deeply aware of their own oddness’

Author details faith’s rise and reach during its big ‘moment.’

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How does your book relate to the "Mormon moment" and Mitt Romney’s campaign?

Romney is sort of the walking embodiment of Mormon confidence. He has faith in his own leadership abilities, faith that the right committee can address most issues, faith that problems are basically solvable. His particular optimism, competence, and slight awkwardness all strike me as distinctly derived from Mormonism’s progressive heritage: It makes him both slightly out of place in contemporary American politics, but at the same time virtually the model of your average Mormon stake president.

At a glance

Meet the author

Matthew Bowman, author of The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith, will sign books and speak at several Utah venues in the coming week:

March 10, 7 p.m. » The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

March 15, 1 p.m. » Lecture, LDS Church History Library, 15 E. North Temple, Salt Lake City

March 15, 6 p.m. » Barnes & Noble, 500 S. and 500 West, Bountiful

March 17, 7 p.m. » Lecture, University of Utah Union building

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His Mormon moment, though, is hardly the first; every decade or two, it seems, Americans ponder letting Mormons become mainstream, and they usually decide in the negative.

Do you think Mormonism will ever enter the mainstream? If so, why and when?

What it will take for Mormons to become mainstream is, simply, the church increasing tenfold. Much of the suspicion derives from how small, and therefore insular, the church appears. So many of these things were said about Catholics 100 years ago.

Catholics had to obey the pope, had "weird" rituals, wore "strange clothing" and did odd things like Lent and all this other stuff. So many similar accusations are now being made against Mormons.

Then, between 1890 and 1960, Catholics became 25 percent of the American population. That mainlined them better than anything that the Catholics themselves could do.

What do you hope non-Mormons will learn about the faith from reading your book?

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I’d like non-Mormons to come away with a couple of things: first, a sense that Mormonism is in fact a very diverse movement, one with a lot of different flavors, tendencies and blends — as much as any other religion. And secondly, I’d like them to realize that Mormons themselves today wrestle with a lot of things other Americans find odd about the faith: Mormons are deeply aware of their own oddness, but also deeply confident that their oddness should not preclude them from full participation in American life.

What do Mormons think is odd about their faith?

Mormons are distinctly aware of their own status as what they call a "peculiar people," a faith with a particular mandate from heaven, particular obligations to the divine that set them apart from the world. They often perceive the world to be a place of challenge and threats, a place like St. Augustine’s City of Man, where the faithful are merely visitors. And yet at the same time they believe their faith makes their lives in that world far better, far more productive, far happier. They both fit and do not fit in the world.

Do younger Latter-day Saints experience Mormonism differently from their parents?

Mormonism, like any other institution on Earth, is always evolving, always changing. [Former] President Gordon B. Hinckley brought to the front of Mormon life a new openness, a new friendliness toward the world, a new confidence that Mormonism had little to fear in engagement with American culture and life. This has marked the faith deeply in the past two decades.



Twitter: @religiongal

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